The past year has been a particularly nasty one. More scary stuff is ahead. But for the first time in a long while, I can see clear highway beyond the immediate mess.
In my life-is-a-journey metaphor, this is where I see the auto industry.
Donít get me wrong. Weíre still axle deep in the bad stuff and when the sun comes up tomorrow we wonít be using cruise control. But those who are left can see there is a future.
A quick aside here. Most folks can understand the metaphor of life as a journey. You learn as you travel, starting with birth and ending with death. Yeah, we get it.
No metaphor is perfect, but this one works for me. The analogies fit most circumstances. Like many Americans, and those in the auto industry anywhere, I suspect, the imagery of choice for my journey is paved roadway seen over a steering wheel.
Well, this past year has been more like the road to hell. Pick your own analogy: flat tires, blown engines, washed-out bridges, ghastly traffic jams, bad crashes, endless detours. My choice? All of the above, plus roadside repairs in cold rain and colleagues lost in the storm.
Detroitís plight has captured most of the headlines, but itís been an awful, truly ugly year for people in the auto industry just about anywhere on the globe.
Letís face it. A lot of colleagues wonít be joining us the rest of the way. Their journey will take a different path than ours. They include 1,069 assembly line workers at a closed General Motorsí plant in Wilmington, Del.; 319 workers at a Toyota Boshoku America parts plant in Leitchfield, Ky.; hundreds at a Grammer parts plant in Horazdovice, Czech Republic; and more at a Metaldyne plant in New Castle, Ind.
Sometimes we can attach a name to people thrown off the wagon, like John McGowan, a shift leader at a closing Visteon plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland, who is protesting reductions in workersí severance pay instead of making auto parts. Or people fighting to stay, such as Bob Alexander, a veteran car dealer in tiny Kenedy, Texas. GM is pulling his Chevrolet franchise, but he is determined to keep selling Chevy and Ford pickups from adjacent showrooms and retain his Chevy staff.
There is a lot of work left to get the industry running again.
But the survivors are starting to hear the siren call again. The road whispers to us even as we work on whatís broken. Like delayed travelers, weíre impatient to get started. We need the rhythm of the road. Címon. Finish the repairs, pack the tools, fuel up.
Itís time to get moving again.